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Social Development

South Asia can get more women to work

Hiska Reyes's picture
 World Bank
South Asian countries are making progress in clearing the way for women to get jobs and creating a safer work environment for them. Yet, too many women across South Asia are left out of the workforce—and that despite booming economic growth. Credit: World Bank

This blog is part of a series examining women’s economic empowerment in South Asia. Starting today on International Women's Day and over the next few weeks, we will be exploring successful interventions, research, and experience to improve gender equality across the region. 

Meet Fazeela Dharmaratne from Sri Lanka.
 
Her story, like that of millions of other women in South Asia, is one of struggle between family and work and a story worth telling as we mark International Women’s Day.
 
Unlike too many of her female peers, Fazeela was able to reinvent herself professionally.
 
As a young woman, straight out of school, she joined a bank in Colombo as a banking assistant. In 17 years, she climbed up the corporate ladder to become regional manager—a position she later quit to care for her children.
 
Unfazed, Fazeela started her own small home-based daycare business in 2012, initially serving only 4-5 children. Today, Fazeela is the director of the CeeBees pre-school and childcare centers serving several corporate clients in Colombo.
 
Fazeela’s success belies the fact that across South Asia too many women are left out of the workforce—and that despite booming economic growth.
 
And while employment rates have gone down across the region, women account for most of this decline.
 
Between 2005 and 2015, women’s employment declined by 5 percent a year in India, 3 percent a year in Bhutan, and 1 percent a year in Sri Lanka.
 
These numbers are worrying because a drop in female employment has important social costs.
 
First, when women control a greater share of household incomes, children are healthier and do better in school.
 
Second, when women work for pay, they have a greater voice in their households, in their communities, and society.
 
Conversely, the economic gains from women participating equally in the labor market are sizable.
 
A recent study by the International Monetary Fund estimated that closing gender gaps in employment and entrepreneurship in South Asia would help grow the economy by about 25 percent. 
 
The good news is that South Asian countries are making progress in clearing the way for women to get jobs and creating a safer work environment for them.  

Sri Lanka’s women want to work—and thrive in the workplace

Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough's picture
A woman hand painting fabric in a local Batik fabric factory
A Sri Lankan woman is hand painting fabric in a local Batik fabric factory. Matale, Sri Lanka. Credit: Shutterstock. January 3, 2017.

It’s International Women’s Day today, and there is a lot to celebrate in Sri Lanka and beyond.

Being a woman, mother, sister, aunt – name it, it’s something women wake up to daily and they love it.  None of them question about being enumerated for these roles.  We marvel and revel in the roles. 

But make no mistake. Women are also very capable breadwinners, contributors to the economies, innovators and entrepreneurs amongst many other roles.

Women want to work, and they want to stay in the workplace. 

What they seek is balance: a gender-balanced workplace, a gender-balanced management, and more gender-balance in sharing wealth and prosperity. 

In that sense, it’s heartening to see some of the proposals put forth in the government of Sri Lanka’s budget: more daycare centers, flexible work hours, and incentives to promote maternity leave. 

These are very welcome changes to think equal, build smart, innovate for change—the 2019 International Women's Day campaign theme—and we encourage those with jobs to implement these policy changes. 

This year, let me share with you a quick analysis of five laws that Sri Lankan women and their advocates have identified as constraining for joining the workforce and staying there! 

Skilling up Bangladeshi women

Tashmina Rahman's picture
Learning new skills for better jobs in Bangladesh: Meet Kamrul Nahar Omi


The Bangladesh garments industry is poised to grow into a $50 billion industry by 2021 and for this, two million semi-skilled workers are needed.

Non-garment industries such as leather, furniture, hospitality and Information & Technology (IT) are also poised to grow.

But how can we think equal, build smart, innovate for change, the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day? 

Female participation in the workforce has been increasing but remains less than half of male participation rates across primary working ages.

Of those females joining work, over 80 percent are engaged in low-skilled, low-productivity jobs in the informal sector with little opportunity for career progression.

Technical and vocational education and training (TVET) is one important medium to equip women with employable skills and improve their job market participation.  

Overcoming the perception of TVET as ‘male-dominated’ training, women’s participation in technical programs has been steadily rising over the past decade.

Yet, Bangladesh still has a long way to go with female share in enrollments around 25 percent in TVET programs.

In fact, a World Bank study identifies some keys areas of intervention for improving female participation in technical diploma programs:

  1. creating a gender-friendly environment in polytechnics and workplaces;
  2. developing more service-orientated diploma programs;
  3. developing a TVET awareness campaign for females;
  4. (supporting a career counseling and guidance system for females;
  5. improving access to higher education;
  6. providing demand-stimulating incentives; (vii) generating research and knowledge;
  7. leveraging partnerships to promote opportunities for females and
  8. generating more and better data to track progress and inform policy and operations for female-friendly TVET. 

Applauding the women leaders in South Asia

Hartwig Schafer's picture

I just ended my first round of country visits as the World Bank’s Vice President for the South Asia Region.  Over and above all, I have been immensely impressed by the resilience, determination, commitment and innovation of the women leaders that I had the privilege to meet during my visits.

These women are succeeding in a region where it is hard for women to realize their career dreams. In South Asia, only 28 percent of women ages 15+ are employed, compared to 48 percent worldwide.

What better opportunity than International Women’s Day to give a huge shout-out and applaud those women who are role models, entrepreneurs, and leaders in the eight countries of South Asia.

Neha Sharma, the district magistrate in Baghai village and Hart Schafer in India
Baghai village in Firozabad district, Uttar Pradesh, India. Photo: World Bank

Gender equality: Unleashing the real wealth of nations

Annette Dixon's picture
© World Bank
© World Bank

Last week, we launched the Women, Business, and the Law report, which found that despite the considerable progress that many countries have made in improving women’s legal rights over the last decade, women are still only accorded 75 percent of the legal rights that men, on average, are given. As a result, they are less able to get jobs, start businesses and make economic decisions, with economic consequences that reverberate beyond their families and communities.

This is a particularly timely piece of research because as we mark International Women's Day, it’s another reminder of the work we have ahead of us: women without legal protections to go to school or work outside the home are stripped of their voice and agency—and unable to invest in human capital for themselves or their families. With the Human Capital Project in full swing and work underway with more than 50 countries on improving people-based investments, putting gender equality at the top of the agenda will be critical to crafting better policy.

India: How to help communities break the vicious "disaster-poverty" cycle

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
 

Natural disasters push the near poor to below the poverty line & contribute to more persistent and severe poverty, creating poverty traps. Impacts on their livelihood pushes them further down the poverty line and as they own few assets it is very difficult for them to break this cycle.
Poor are caught up in and disaster-poverty vicious circle- are more likely to reside in hazardous locations and in substandard housing exposing them more to disasters. Poor households in disasters use harmful coping strategies, such as reducing expenditures on food, health, & education or increasing incomes by sending children to work.

Invest in women to boost growth in MENA

Lili Mottaghi's picture

Only one in five working-age women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has a job or is actively looking for one. Currently, women make up only 21% of the labor force and only contribute 18% to MENA’s overall GDP. Had the gender gap in labor force participation been narrowed over the past decade, the GDP growth rate in MENA could have doubled or increased by about US$1 trillion in cumulative output. Instead, the current gender gap in the traditional labor market has extended to the rest of the economy, including the technology sector, impacting women’s access to, and use of, digital services. Women are 9% less likely to own a mobile phone and 21% less likely than men to use mobile internet. 

The gender gap in the disaster risk management sector: why it matters

Caren Grown's picture
 

Over the past decade, the practice of disaster risk management (DRM) has evolved and matured.  From mainly focusing on disaster response, local and international actors alike now emphasize the importance of preparedness and prevention – saving lives and avoiding losses even before disaster strikes.

What if we could use nature to prevent disasters?

Brenden Jongman's picture
 

Heavy rain and severe flooding brought the city of Colombo, Sri Lanka, to its knees. In China’s Yangtze River Basin, rivers spilled their banks, inundating towns and villages. In Mobile Bay, Alabama, strong ocean waves carried away valuable coastline.

In each of these locations, disasters caused by natural hazards seemed beyond human control. But instead of focusing only on building more drains, seawalls and dams, these governments turned to nature for protection from the disasters. Several years later, the urban wetlands, oyster reefs and flood plains they helped establish are now keeping their citizens safe while nourishing the local economies.

Women at work in East Asia Pacific: Solid progress but a long road ahead

Victoria Kwakwa's picture



East Asia Pacific’s (EAP) strong economic performance over the past few decades has significantly benefited and empowered women in the region, bringing better health and education and greater access to economic opportunities. To celebrate International Women’s Day, we are featuring 12 women in the region who embody the advancements women have made in EAP, despite the many barriers that remain for them at work.

Surpassing all other developing regions, EAP’s female-to-male enrollment ratio for tertiary education is currently 1.2, with the ratio of secondary education access nearly equal for girls and boys. But in the workplace, the share of women working in EAP is at 62% versus 78.9% for men, a gap that has not narrowed over the past four years.


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